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December 12, 2013

56

Empathy vs. Sympathy

by Amy

I linked to this blog post in my previous post but I’m linking again because I think it’s really good and important.  There is a BIG BIG difference between empathy and sympathy.  I’ve gotten a whole of a lot of sympathy, not much empathy.  Everyone, everyone felt super-duper bad for me when this happened – that’s sympathy.  Feeling bad for someone else is sympathy.  Only a couple of people in my life empathized with me.  Fellow stroke survivors can automatically empathize because they know the absolute HELL that I’ve been through.  My family and friends do not.  The point of being empathetic is trying to determine what someone else is feeling and going through and trying to understand that and be sensitive to it.  You never, ever will completely understand it unless you’ve experienced it but you better TRY to understand.  Not many people were very empathetic with me.

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56 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dec 12 2013

    To empathize you have to walk a mile in their moccasins.

    Reply
    • Dec 12 2013

      Oh crap!! I don’t have any moccasins!!

      Reply
      • Dec 12 2013

        don’t criticize someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes: then when you criticize them, you’ll be a mile away.

        Reply
        • Dec 12 2013

          Oh I like that.

          Reply
        • Dec 12 2013

          i blew the punchline: You’ll be a mile away AND you’ll have their shoes.

          Reply
          • Dec 12 2013

            LOL! I don’t criticize only guide…strongly at times. Lord knows enough have tried to lead me and failed.

            Reply
  2. barb0803
    Dec 12 2013

    being an Empath is hard work. our society tries to wring it out of us by saying we’re “too sensitive.” Seriously, my father used to try to get me to stop crying by saying, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” Please don’t be so hard on people who cannot fathom how to empathize with us – looking at us and thinking, “poor thing,” might be the best they can do.

    Reply
    • Dec 12 2013

      Some people in my life didn’t even try. No matter what your best is you can always try. You can try to make your best better.

      Reply
    • Dec 12 2013

      Barb,
      Being empathic is a tough job. I am both sympathetic and empathic also. I can actually see and feel what someone else is going through and sometimes before they realize it. All you can do is try as I mentioned in my email to you. If you have to just walk away for your own well being.

      Reply
  3. oc1dean
    Dec 12 2013

    Some tried to empathize by commenting about the time they sprained their ankle and had to use a cane for a week. I was still a nice person back then and didn’t comment back.

    Reply
    • Dec 12 2013

      You were a nice person??????? I used to be nice too. 🙂

      Reply
    • Dec 12 2013

      I had a friend I spent a LOT of time with post-stroke, and she knew the best what life was like for me. after she moved away, I ran into her and she had sprained her ankle, and actually said that now she knew what it was like to be disabled like me. thank God she moved away.

      Reply
      • Dec 12 2013

        Oh good god

        Reply
        • Dec 12 2013

          Dean- you are a nice person just opinionated like the rest of us.
          Barb- People say weird things.
          Amy- LOL

          Reply
      • Brooke F.
        Dec 12 2013

        Wow. That’s pretty bizarre. I once had a friend (distant) who compared my “troubles” with her “trouble” of her husband being away due to his service in the military. I mean no disrespect, I appreciate our military and their families…but holy hell, don’t you dare compare the two. Apples and oranges.

        Reply
        • Dec 12 2013

          More like apples and guava fruit.

          Reply
          • Dec 12 2013

            maybe comparing apples and brownies … Both great snacks, but …

            Reply
            • Brooke F.
              Dec 13 2013

              I sure do love brownies.

              Reply
              • Dec 14 2013

                Me too, a person with willpower will choose apples over brownies every time. I have no willpower when it comes to brownies so I don’t eat a whole lot of apples.

                Reply
                • barb0803
                  Dec 14 2013

                  Brooke and Amy, I make the BEST brownies, but butter’s off your non-dairy diet, right, Amy?

                  Reply
                  • Dec 14 2013

                    Yeah butter’s a no-no. Although Brooke you were right, I found that Earth Balance at the Whole Foods I go to and it’s great.

                    Reply
                    • barb0803
                      Dec 14 2013

                      Can I bake w Earth Balance?

                    • Dec 14 2013

                      Yes you can!

    • Brooke F.
      Dec 12 2013

      Lame. People are crazy. That is just pure ignorance, and I mean that in the most respectful way possible.

      Reply
      • Dec 12 2013

        wow, Brooke, this is an amazing thought: does “ignorance”mean that the person has ignores the facts? I’m not sure there’s a way of respectfully calling someone ignorant. maybe YOU could pull it off – I couldn’t.

        Reply
        • Brooke F.
          Dec 12 2013

          I always think of ignorance as a “not knowing”. Sometimes it’s because we have had no reason or context to know and, other times it’s because we have chosen not to know. So, I guess it depends on which kind of “ignorant” a person is. I know I have been both, and either way, when I have discovered my ignorance, it hasn’t felt good. Before Zack had a brain injury, I was completely and utterly ignorant about what it meant I have any sort of neurological issues. I have learned, grown a lot, and really gained a respect and honor for survivors and their families. I am incredibly thankful for that. It doesn’t make brain injury worth it, but it does really help.

          Reply
          • Sean
            Dec 13 2013

            Brooke, with you on that one. Before the stroke, I fell into the camp of people who saw people with Psychological issues, as someone who needed to sort their life out. Pure uninformed ignorance. Having been through a range of Psychological problems after my stroke, I’ve now lived it so to speak. I’m not sure though how we can pass such experiences on.

            Reply
  4. Dec 12 2013

    I suppose I could have twisted her arm around and broken it; then she’d be a bit closer to knowing. Unlike you and Dean, I did NOT used to be nice. I’m nice NOW, but it came to me post-stroke.

    Reply
    • Dec 12 2013

      Lol I guess I’m nice to strangers, but don’t get on my bad side.

      Reply
  5. Dec 12 2013

    Can you tell hospice is here? I posted and even posted replies 🙂

    Reply
    • Dec 12 2013

      Jo, that’s great. You need some time off. I have no idea what your life must be like to be a stroke survivor AND caregiver. sometimes, despite my lovely life, I want respite from this disability. It is relentless.

      Reply
  6. scottg
    Dec 12 2013

    The whole empathy thing is tough for me. My experiences with stroke are so different from the mainstream stroke community’s that I sometimes come off as being even less empathetic than a non-stroke person! That hasn’t been good for my hospital volunteer work. So, in my case, being in a stroke victim’s shoes hasn’t helped. I wish you could pick up a half-gallon of empathy at Target or something.

    Reply
    • Dec 12 2013

      THAT would be awesome! I would buy 100 gallons and always give them out as my presents to people.

      Reply
      • Dec 12 2013

        LOVE the idea of buying empathy. one limitation I see, though is that people who can’t empathize generally think they CAN. My former boss (15 years) frequently declared that I would be surprised at how well he understood what I was going through. he was so convincing that I suspected that maybe his beloved mother (who died before I met him) had survived a stroke.After reading my blog entry called “failure” he admitted that he hadn’t had any idea what I’d gone through, and that if he’d implied it, he was sorry. what I learned was that people are so convinced that they understand based on some silly little thing that they entice us into thinking they might understand us.

        Scott, I find it hard to believe you don’t have empathy for those who work hard to recover from stroke. I imagine your guilt as gallon jugs of empathy from Target you heft in a backpack along with you as you walk your daily 10 miles.

        Reply
        • scottg
          Dec 12 2013

          Oh, I cherish and empathize with all those who fight courageously against stroke. I can’t believe I’ve seen as much optimism and spirit as I have,and is exactly the reason I volunteer. And I cringe in empathy at those souls less fortunate who suffer with anxiety, fear, and depression. Okay, here’s where my problem is. A few of our patients have been “macho”-type guys who had fallen completely apart and couldn’t pull themselves together. I looked at their wives, and that’s who I empathized with. They were basically alone in the world, they were scared out of their minds and they had no idea what to do next, and all because Mr.Tough Guy over there couldn’t stop crying long enough to support his wife one teeny little bit. It made me sick at the time. Anyway, I totally agree with my social worker boss who says I shouldn’t be so judgmental about this and to get over my problem. She’s right, of course. There’s no room for prejudice in a rehab ward, or anywhere else, for that matter.

          Reply
          • Dec 13 2013

            That would make me sick too.

            Reply
  7. scottg
    Dec 12 2013

    I need two gallons then (at least).

    Reply
  8. Dec 12 2013

    Amy, I have to say that when the comments on your blog wander off-target, they are very entertaining, but when they stay on-target, like this discussion, they are much more enlightening – and that’s what I’m looking for online. in real-time life, I hear platitudes, encouragement and compliments; those are great, but that’s not what I want. i want understanding. Period.

    and not all stroke survivors can provide each other with understanding:

    Amy, I will NEVER understand what it’s like to be struck BEFORE establishing my beloved family.

    Jo, I will never understand what it’s like to be a stroke survivor AND caregiver.

    Elizabeth, caring for your young son while surviving a stroke is un fathomable to me.

    Julie Phillips, appreciating your stroke because it revealed your ovarian cancer is beyond the scope of my abilities.

    and I am an empathetic person. Good luck with those normals who just don’t get it.

    Reply
    • scottg
      Dec 12 2013

      Right on with this comment. I think mutual understanding is at the root core of everything here, and I see absolutely nowhere else you can get it like this. Because of that, seriously, this may well be the most important place in all of the stroke community.

      Reply
      • Dec 13 2013

        Wow, thanks Scott.

        Reply
    • Dec 13 2013

      Barb,
      I think I can speak for all you mentioned. If not, they will speak up. We do it BECAUSE we have to.

      I think everyone looks at everyone else’s problems and don’t understand how they do it. I’ve heard it from others for ten years now when others look at what we’ve been through and are still going through. The fact is for us it’s life and we’re trying to muddle through to have the best life possible. In some ways, I too can look at certain families and wonder the same thing.
      Amy- I can’t imagine being so young and having a stroke.
      Barb- I can’t imagine the strength you possess to do all that you’ve accomplished in 4 short years.
      Elizabeth- While I may be a caregiver to my husband and stroke survivor, you got hit with a double whammy.

      And all he rest of you with your stories fall into that category…even Dean.

      Reply
      • oc1dean
        Dec 13 2013

        Well at least I’m an afterthought. Amy I love your place being the cool hangout it is. I can’t do my comments elsewhere with friends because I come off as too intense. It doesn’t help that “I am smarter than the average bear!” Sorry Amy, that quote is way before your time

        Reply
        • Dec 13 2013

          But I use it! I use it and have no idea what it means or where it came from. What is it from? Who is the average bear?

          Reply
          • Dec 13 2013

            Yogi the Bear was a cartoon character/show when Dean and I were kids. he and hid buddy Boo-Boo lived in Jellystone National Park and were always stealing campers’ picnic baskets, despite the Park Ranger being after them. Yogi used to say he was smarter than the average bear.

            Reply
            • Dec 13 2013

              Oooooooooooooooooooh ok, thank you!

              Reply
              • oc1dean
                Dec 13 2013

                halfway thru is the phrase.

                or this 4 second clip

                Reply
      • Dec 14 2013

        Yep, we do what we do because we HAVE to do it. In my case, being a mom was something I always wanted, and I’m soo thankful I got the chance. I do what I do because I LOVE to do it. My heart pushed me from the moment of my dx. I wanted to be the best mom I could be and I was worried that the ticking time bomb in my head was going to rob me of my dreams. I honestly believe my situation forced me to recover. There was no other option.There was no one to take care of me, I had a baby to take care of and I wanted to take care of him more than anything.

        Reply
  9. Dec 13 2013

    and he said, “average” oddly, with 3 syllables: A (short A) – VER – AGE (sounds like IJ), so there was a particular rhythm to the whole phrase.

    Reply
  10. oc1dean
    Dec 13 2013

    This is what Barb and I laughed at Saturday mornings.
    Yogi Bear Home Sweet Jellystone

    Reply
    • barb0803
      Dec 13 2013

      It STILL makes me laugh!

      Reply
    • Dec 13 2013

      My favorite Saturday morning cartoon before Saturday morning cartoons had a stroke and died was The Gummi Bears

      Reply
  11. Dec 13 2013

    I have a blog that I write about my stroke journey too. By the time I was 23, I had suffered from two strokes, leaving my right side numb and my hand and arm disabled. You may find my story inspiring.

    notfastjustfabulous.com

    Reply
  12. Dec 17 2013

    Heh. Because of Yogi, I have to pronounce it “pick-a-nick basket!”

    Anyway…. Here’ a video about empathy (<3 mins) which is amusing, and — I think — offers good guidance:

    I know how you guys feel.

    Reply

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